Sound plays a big part in our lives, and it appears it’s responsible for the way food taste too. Who knew? Well, musician and sound designer Sara Lenzi has the answer. Brought up in the world of classical music and having studied the philosophy of science, Lenzi founded the award-winning sound design firm, Lorelei, which she brought to Singapore in 2012. At the firm, she designs sound identities, interactive installations and multimedia experiences for the big guys like BMW and Fujitsu. If you want to meet up with her, you can do so at this weekend’s “Taste the Moment”, a multi-sensorial festival of culinary workshops, masterclasses and dining experiences.
How can sound influence our taste of food?
Sound can affect our perception of taste in many ways. Despite its niche field, it has been widely studied and proven by scientific literature in the past 10 to 15 years, even deserving its own name “gastrophysics”. The merit goes mainly to Professor Charles Spence and his team at the Cross-Modal Lab at Oxford University. They have been conducting multiple experiments to demonstrate how flavours are connected to sound, and have found that our brains respond the same way as when exposed to a specific combination of pitch, rhythm, morphology (such as legato and staccato) and timbre.
How does sound affect our appetites?
The way a packaging sounds when opened can help reduce sugar and salt intake. Overly sweet music or the crinkle of a bag – which is mentally associated with salty chips – can give the impression of you having had more sugar or salt than you actually did.
Do food names reveal the implicit associations between taste and pitch?
When we talk about names, we consider speech and phonetic sounds. There’s a whole area of research at the crossing between marketing, branding and neurosciences that studies this phenomenon called “sound symbolism”. That is, the influence of how a product’s name sounds in relation to the expectations we have of the product itself. Applied to food, it studies how a brand name elicits expectations on characteristics such as texture, temperature and so on.
Sound symbolism works the same way onomatopoeia works. If I say “bouba” and ask you to imagine a creature with that name, you will probably think of something slow and big. If I say “kiki”, you’d expect a tiny, fast bird with a shrill voice. Now, would you say “Schweppes” is a more appropriate name for a carbonated drink or for a hot and creamy soup?
What is a favourite taste-sound pairing of yours?
I went through a phase of 70 per cent dark chocolate with bitter sound (meaning: low in pitch), but at the moment, it’s barbecued fish.
What can we expect at the Sound Bites workshop?
At Sound Bites, I will be presenting a new concept. Together with Spanish visual artist and chef Alberto Lomas, we have designed a series of modular dishes that work around a neutral dish and four seasonings. Each seasoning will play with the nuances of different basic flavours (sweet, bitter and sour) and spice, because after all, we are in Singapore. We will let sound decide whether the same combination of a base dish and seasoning tastes sweet, bitter or spicy and so on. We will have fun imagining the various permutations of these culinary modular elements to create a richer experience and to pay homage to Southeast Asian culinary tradition.
What are you hoping for guests to take away from this workshop?
The food industry works actively to integrate sound in both retail experience and product packaging in order to promote a healthier lifestyle. But at a personal level, I hope guests will leave with a heightened sense of curiosity of running their own culinary experiments at home. Food is one of the most important components of our cultural heritage, and so is sound, which is still undervalued in our everyday life. It is a big challenge to stimulate people to experiment with this in their cuisine. We are going toward a multi-sensory environment thanks to digital technology, so why not include sound? With that, I’ve designed a complimentary gift for participants to experiment with at home, and hopefully they will start to create their own in future.